A reader recently sent in a link to a New York Times article that discussed an alternative breathing technique developed in Russia for the treatment of asthma called the Buteyko Method, or the Buteyko Breathing Technique (BBT), and asked for an evaluation of the claims on SBM. This post will attempt to be a reasonably comprehensive evaluation of Buteyko and his therapy so that subsequent discussions, should they be necessary, may be more terse.
The NYT article is primarily an anecdote of a friend of the author who suffered from severe asthma, but who had improved since he began using the BBT. The author briefly discusses asthma, the history and theory behind Buteyko and hyperventilation before wrapping up with an attempt to provide evidence to support the legitimacy of the story. The friend’s pulmonologist is quoted to confirm that “based on objective data, his breathing has improved…” She cites controlled clinical trials “in Australia and elsewhere” where patients have reduced their use of medications, including a purported British study of 384 patients where patients had a 90% reduction in rescue inhaler use and 50% reduction in steroids. She ends by pointing out that the British Thoracic Society has given BBT a “B” rating, and an admonition to “the pharmaceutically supported American medical community to explore this nondrug technique.”
Never having heard of BBT before, the NYT article left me with several questions. Who was Buteyko? How did he develop the BBT? What is BBT, what does it claim to do, and how does it claim to work? Is the evidence as presented in the NYT article accurate? And finally, what evidence exists within the literature that BBT is an effective treatment for asthma?